Gary Young: Learn to focus on the ‘here and now’ to reduce stress

Transport for London observed a 71 per cent reduction in absence rates due to employee stress and anxiety among a sample of employees who participated in mindfulness. Picture: PA
Transport for London observed a 71 per cent reduction in absence rates due to employee stress and anxiety among a sample of employees who participated in mindfulness. Picture: PA
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Would you focus! It’s a command barked by frustrated parents as offspring avoid homework. Yet in our fast-paced world, there’s a strong argument that it’s not only school pupils who can benefit from training the mind to focus on the “here and now”.

The simple power of mindfulness, focusing on the present, is often overlooked. Yet countless studies have shown mindfulness opens the door for people to adopt more positive actions that will benefit the individual, their work, education and family. And with 23 years of experience working in the fast-paced, pressurised world of financial services, including 12 in strategic change management within the banking sector, I believe passionately that executives can benefit immensely when encouraged to tap into the power of their own mind as much as the strength of their sales pitch.

Sceptics may question introducing mindfulness courses and workshops into an environment where employees are already busy and juggling priorities. I counter that workplaces can ill afford to ignore statistics that highlight the rising impact of stress in the workplace. A 2016 report by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) cited findings in a Labour Force Survey (LFS) in which over the period 2015/2016, stress accounted for 37 per cent of all work-related ill health cases and 45 per cent of all working days lost due to ill health.

Tellingly, a study last year by the Institute of Employment Studies (IES) notes organisations as diverse as Google, Transport for London, the US military, and BlueBay Asset Management have all engaged their employees in mindfulness – with encouraging results.

Transport for London observed a 71 per cent reduction in absence rates due to employee stress and anxiety among a sample of employees who participated in mindfulness. In the private sector businesses, feedback noted improved focus in meetings and ability to prioritise.

My passion is to help people at work, in education and home to thrive and to live their best life. I believe that individuals, schools and businesses can all benefit from engaging with mindfulness, which can go beyond a wellbeing focus and become a catalyst for behaviour change and leadership development. To promote collaboration between the private and public sectors, we hope to team up corporate businesses with schools to help part fund mindfulness courses to pupils. Our social enterprise has undertaken pilot programmes with (S5/S6) groups at Larbert High in Stenhousemuir and Drummond Community High in Edinburgh as part of a concept phase and have recently completed a seven-week course at Abbeyhill Primary School in Edinburgh.

The Mindful Enterprise donates 20 per cent of its profits to subsidise mindfulness courses in schools and offers training at no cost to disadvantaged young people and adults.

The likes of KPMG, Standard Life Investments and the recycling business Changeworks have already engaged with the social enterprise and we hope to work with many others. Our vision is to have mindfulness recognised as a fundamental part of Scottish, and indeed global workplace culture and to be embedded as part of the core curriculum in Scotland’s schools.

If effectively delivered and sustained as a regular practice, mindfulness is a powerful tool in supporting young people during and beyond education. It can have a positive transformative impact on the minds of our future workforce.

It’s time to focus.

Gary Young is the co-founder and CEO of Edinburgh-based social enterprise, The Mindful Enterprise C.I.C.